Making the change – optimising mental health in the workplace

With ever-increasing stress and challenges to mental health, ensuring our workplaces are designed to promote optimum conditions is not only important but central to keeping businesses running. Essentially, the biggest capital investment a company makes is its employees. To ignore sick, stressed, sleep-deprived, or disengaged employees is tantamount to ignoring the upkeep of a building. 

There are four key areas to consider when designing to optimise mental health in workplaces.

Light and colour

Science tells us that there is a significant effect of air quality and light exposure on circadian rhythms, social behaviours, mood, physical well-being and sleep quality. Working in poor or insufficient lighting can lead to headaches, eye strain and tiredness, ultimately causing stress, anxiety and depression.

The colours we surround ourselves with also affect how we feel. Light is made of colour, it converts into electrical impulses when it hits our retina. These impluses pass into the hypothalamus and affect the release of hormones. Green, particularly, is a mood-enhancing colour and is known to reduce stress. 

Using plants, green-view windows, water features and other biophilia can help mitigate stress triggers for employees, creating a healthier and more soothing workplace for your staff. Perhaps if you have a balcony or roof-top space, consider fitting it out as a lunch space or workspace and encourage its use.

Organisation

Working in a soothing and harmonious environment helps to lower stress hormone levels, blood pressure, anxiety levels and depression. Ensuring that your space is organised, arranged and functional for employees is part of making a space optimal for mental health. 

There is a need to strike a balance between simplicity and minimalism, and the colourful, casual “Google-esque” office.  What feels right will depend on your company, culture, employees, business and a host of other factors. Aim for engaging, fit-for-purpose and soothing versus cluttered and distracting.

Social Relations

A company where employees experience good communications and strong social support are perceived as being healthier, have higher job satisfaction, morale, lower absenteeism and a desire to leave. However, balancing the need for an individual to have space for themselves, a sense of community and togetherness and strong social support is key. People have varying needs to be alone, to be known and to know others. 

Ensuring that there are a good mixture of collaborative, social, private and quiet spaces will give employees options. It empowers them to get their work done in the way they like.

Health

Office designs have previously focused on time efficiency, putting everything at easy reach. In today’s thinking, the desire to enable incidental movement for employees is important in helping them with their health goals. 

Encourage staff to take the stairs, discourage eating at desks (by providing an alternative) and offer sit-stand desks. Provide mobile phones to allow people to move around rather than being tied to a desk and place amenities on the periphery so that people need to walk a bit further to access them. 

What to consider

  • Don’t make health and wellbeing a fad in your office or a bandaid to a problem. Options like sleep pods while helpful for mindfulness or a power nap, shouldn’t be used to replace healthy sleep patterns. If your employees are working too long or sleeping in the office, a different conversation is required.
  • Workforces are aging and there will be some who are less fit, well and able. Remember to include options for those who need it.

Fundamentally investing in the health and wellbeing of employees is good business. Staff treated well, with respect are more likely to be retained, be more innovative, and be happier and more productive at work. That in itself is worth making the change. 

Getting back into the office – the ‘new normal’ in office design

Over the past decade offices have become more and more open plan and high-density. Remote working was not part of many office cultures. In many companies, pre-pandemic, if you weren’t at work, then you probably weren’t working. 

In the past few months companies have had to reconfigure business models as Covid-19 lockdowns have required employees to work-from-home. Covid-19 has forced us to accelerate new ways of working, jumping forward a decade in a very short space of time. 

Back to the Office

The reality is that, at some point, we will have to go back to the office. For many, working from home is not a long-term solution. Either the job itself isn’t possible long-term from home or the home environment is not conducive to long-term working. Most importantly though, for many of us, work is a social, community-led activity. We miss being with our colleagues.  We miss those informal run-ins in at the coffee machine. We miss the separation between work and home lives. 

The likelihood is we will see a hybrid approach of remote and in-office working in the coming months. With employees expressing caution and a degree of fear at returning to the office, companies need to create a working environment that takes into account Covid-19 and employees’ well-being. Staff will need to not only feel safe coming into the office but feel that the space is compelling enough to come into and has the kinds of technology to support the new ways of working. It is important that companies engage with their people to get feedback but also to help allay fears. 

Designing for Coronavirus

Companies will need to consider new things in office design: How can staff circulate around the office without issues of contact? How does hot-desking work? How can digital methods allow staff to book desk space, track occupancy and potentially contact tracing? What are the potential changes to office materials like the use of bleach cleanable fabrics and the use of glass?

The “new normal” offices will need to be:

  • Driven by data insights 
  • Flexible and adaptable 
  • Technology enabled
  • Fit-for-purpose around the employee’s needs
  • Collaborative and enabling productivity
  • Designed around using space in different, creative ways
  • Focused on promoting community, the company culture, employee well-being and health

Flexible workspaces

Agile spaces will become more important as office areas need responds to changing space as needs and office populations. Putting wellbeing and health at the centre of office design will be key to creating an environment where people not only feel safe but where they want to be. 

Other new innovations to consider include:

  • Contactless solutions to minimise touch at high-touch areas like doors and elevators but also to potentially measure contamination or show how recently something was cleaned. 
  • Hygiene stations – sanitiser and handwashing basins 
  • Furniture solutions that minimise contact but maintain the sense of community and culture
  • Airflow measures and air quality devices and monitors
  • AV, IT and unified communications and collaboration solutions that help to connect remote workers with those in the office
  • Versatile versus built furniture options to allow for flexibility and agility 

It is still unclear what the post-Covid-19 working world will look like but there will need to be a rebalance of working practices between remote working and office-based working. Technology will lead the way and automation will play a big part in making this the ‘new normal’. If this situation has taught us anything it is that things change and we can adapt and adapt quickly when we need to. 

Sweet smell of success – using scent in the workplace

There is no doubt that smell has a tremendous pull on human beings. Scent has the ability to transport us, move us and motivate us. Different industries have used smell to promote sales for decades – from the basic of the smell of baking bread or roasting coffee when showing your home when it is for sale to Shanghai Tang who famously use a signature scent in their stores.

The use of smell has evolved beyond this, with individuals and offices now looking at how to use aromatherapy techniques to create positive environments where staff can be motivated depending on their task. Research has shown that using an appropriate aromatherapy oil can improve an individual’s mood up to 40%.

How can scents be used in the workplace?

Stress

Some essential oils can help workers relax and focus during stressful situations. Stress is not only unhealthy but it can negatively affect how employees perform at work. Lavender and rosemary have been scientifically proven to significantly decrease levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the brain. Linalool, a substance found in lemons, reduces our ‘fight or flight’ response.

Increase Performance and Promote Creativity

Workers seeking to reduce fatigue, improve mental clarity and be task-focussed can use scents to help them with their performance. A study showed that the smell of lemons, jasmine and lavender reduced typing errors by 54%, 33% and 20% respectively. Peppermint also improved performance when doing tasks that require speed and accuracy. Choosing the right smell can also help boost creativity and innovation. 

 

Some specific scents worth considering for the office:

  • Lemon – promotes concentration, calms and is useful if you are feeling anger, anxiety or are stressed and run down. Lemon also has some antiviral and antibacterial properties. 
  • Lavender – calms and controls emotional stress. It soothes nerves, relieves tension and depression.
  • Jasmine – calms nerves, is uplifting and is an anti-depressant promoting feelings of confidence, optimism and positive energy.
  • Rosemary – excellent for improving memory, fights physical exhaustion and mental fatigue and increases alertness. 
  • Cinnamon – stimulates, improving concentration and focus while combating fatigue.
  • Peppermint – useful for creative activities or when brainstorming. It increases energy, stimulates the mind, promotes concentration and helps with clear thinking.
  • Coffee – enhances analytical reasoning and task-based activities. Obviously, it is good at keeping you alert and awake and ready to solve problems
  • Vetiver – boosts brain patterns, improves focus and attentiveness leading to better concentration.

 

How to deploy scent in the office

It is important to remember that the use of aromatherapy in the office is contentious. Some people are allergic, others may find the scent unsettling or simply unpleasant. Some scents are not appropriate for those who have medical issues or are pregnant. It is also important to consider spillage and technical equipment interference.

Companies should decide if they will allow individuals to use their own scents. There are some channels that work well for office-based environments like scented stress balls, roller balls, scented hot/cold packs and essential oil diffuser clips that have refillable scent pads.

Overall it important to consider scents as part of a holistic approach to workplace enhancement and wellbeing. Ensuring that there are clear guidelines, objectives and engagement to deploy scent into the office can mean that you can successfully use smell to change how your workforce acts, feels and performs.

Five reasons your office refurbishment really needs an architect

Refurbishing a property is an exciting prospect but one that can feel daunting and fraught with challenges. A refurbishment gives you the opportunity to redesign, update or even expand your current space so it is fit-for-purpose for your current and future needs.

Some might consider the option of doing a refurbishment without an architect. They think by hiring one they prolong the project and potentially could lose control over the outcomes. These are myths. An Architects is a professional like a doctor or a lawyer and they act as expert consultants. They use their professional know-how to help you achieve what you truly want, sometimes things you didn’t even know how to think of. But ultimately it is your project.

From a practical point of view, there are some key reasons to engage an architect when considering an office refurbishment:

1 – Architects think about more than making a space just look good. They ensure that the new rooms and space will fit the purpose they are intended for as well as the lifestyle (or workstyle) of the people of will be using it.

2 – They can anticipate where you may have issues, find solutions to any problems or even see options to improve your plans. It is always best to involve an architect at the beginning of the project. They can help cost it out, do any drafting of plans that may be needed, select the best materials and can even project manage the work. It is easier and cheaper to fix an issue on a plan than when it is half-built.

3 – While you have some permitted development rights that allow you to go up and out to a certain height or length, an architect can make sure you don’t face liability issues for any problems with the plans or planning permission. They will be able to advise you on the art of the possible, what needs planning permission, what doesn’t and how to go about it.

4 – If you are planning something a little “out of the norm” then an architect can help you apply for planning permission. They can advise on what is likely to be approved and will help you to explain what you are proposing in the best possible way. They have tools like 3D modelling that can display to a planning permission committee exactly what it is you are proposing.

5 – Having an architect review your plans means that you can be sure that they are 100% compliant to the latest building codes and planning requirements. They can take into account elements like health and safety best practices and carbon footprint. They will also ensure that your plans follow the most up-to-date and efficient ways of designing a modern and future-proof home or office

Fundamentally, an architect has one goal in a refurbishment project, to make sure you get the best refurbishment possible, with as little hassle as possible and helps you budget and keep on track. What could be more useful than that?

 

Making Happiness Happen in the Workplace – Why Design Matters

Everyone has lived or worked in a place that simply doesn’t feel ‘right.’ It can have an enormous impact on an individual’s wellbeing and happiness, which then has a knock-on effect to their productivity and possibly their longevity. According to Gallup’s 2019 “State of the Global Workplace” report (https://www.gallup.com/workplace/257552/state-global-workplace-2017.aspx), just 10% of adults working full-time in Western Europe are considered “engaged”, (ie both involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace). Engaged employees in Gallup’s report are likely to be 17% more productive and their company 21% more profitable than those who are not.

While many elements go into this, dissatisfaction with the physical working environment is certainly a key element. Shifts from cubicle-farm style offices to hot-desking and back, and offices that don’t take into account the needs a multi-generational workforce, mean companies have to look at what it means to build and design a happy office.

Significant research has been done into the impact of workplaces designed for or reconfigured to maximise well-being and happiness. There are some basic fundamentals that come out through most research.

Physical elements

There are some environmental elements that instantly increase happiness:

  • Delivering adequate natural light for all users of the space, not just the lucky few with a corner office;
  • Ensuring acoustics are appropriate to the use of the space – so sound carries if needed or is dampened in other areas;
  • Building a mixture of collaborative as well as private space – while collaboration is ideal, recognising that sometimes individuals need somewhere that is quiet or private;
  • Providing lighting, air and temperature are appropriate and fit-for-purpose.

All of these are simple but vital elements of a happy workspace.

Movement and wellness

Given medical experts regard sitting as the new health threat, the workplace needs to be designed to encourage users to move around. For example, ensuring stairwells are accessible and attractive so that people are more likely to walk and take the stairs rather than the lift. Employees are more likely to collaborate, take breaks and have positive interactions if they are encouraged to move around. This can be as simple as offering standing desks to employees but Google’s Headquarters in Colorado took this to a new level, literally, with a giant rock-climbing wall.

Ambience

Consider the ambience of your space. Does it have colours that inspire productivity and creativity or beautiful, interesting and natural interior design? Although not new, incorporating elements in an office design that provide visual complexity can impart a sense of comfort, ease and potentially mitigate stress. Give your office a sense of balance and proportion, as well as using colour and texture to improve the richness of the environment.

Flexibility

This is not about adding a yoga room but ensuring that spaces can be adapted to the changing needs of the day-to-day as well as the future. Adding flexibility to your design can help a company not only expand as its staffing levels change but to repurpose spaces as the company grows. With the average office cost per square foot in London the highest in Europe (GBP112.5 per square foot (Q1-2020) for the West End), giving companies the ability to maximise their office space is of paramount importance as well as fostering a more harmonious environment. Opened in 2016, Google’s 6 Pancras Square offers modular meeting rooms. Known internally as Project Jack, each plywood pod is mass-produced and can be customised on-site into different sized spaces and different levels of privacy.

Nature

It is not a new concept to bring nature indoors. However, Biophilic design puts our interaction and connection to nature at its forefront. Research has shown that by simply including more nature and natural materials in a workspace, productivity can be increased by up to 15%. Among other recommendations, the Well Building Institute recommends one one-foot plant for every 100 square feet. This is more than a pot-plant on every desk, but the ability for users of the space to connect with their surroundings seasonally, during the day and night and even react to the weather.

 

Fundamentally, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is. By creating a space in which the users feel at home, inspired and creative, and where they can connect and collaborate with others, is a space which engenders a feeling of “home” and well-being. That feeling helps employees be more productive, creative and innovative, fosters respect and ultimately delivers happier employees.

Using Minimalism as a Stress Reducer

Far too often, our homes or offices become cluttered. Our belongings fill the rooms, and the space begins to invite a sense of claustrophobia.  It’s a  feeling best avoided–our spaces should be a place to feel relaxed, where positive energy is created, and visual discord doesn’t cloud our thoughts.

One particular way of easing the negative influence clutter can cause is by embracing minimalism. We’ve put together a few ideas for building a space that embraces minimalism and evokes a sense of tranquillity.

Space Enhancing Furniture

Observe the next house you enter–you’ll come to realise that we often choose furniture that’s larger than we need. Usually, the homes of most couples won’t need a vast reclining suite or that dining table with enough room for a dozen guests. Why not opt for more minimal and versatile furniture?

This could include console tables or an extendable dining table–they offer brilliant space maximising solutions and still have the potential to entertain guests when needed. Keeping your interior free of overbearing furniture – the space surrounding is as important as the furniture itself.

Maximise Efficient Storage

One of the best investments you can make in adopting a minimalist approach is efficient storage solutions. They’ll ensure everything is kept out of the way, and precisely where you need it. This could begin with creating a well-organised wardrobe, and the use of sliding doors–not only will they look more contemporary, but they’re also far more space efficient than traditional hinged doors.

Simplify Your Palette

While colour may seem arbitrary to minimalism, often in the best minimalist spaces, it’s one of the key factors to how the space will feel.

By having too many bright and or clashing colours, even the emptiest spaces can feel inhibited and stressful. In keeping a colour scheme to only a few hues, you can build a feeling of consistency without being overbearing. And by employing only a few colours, it doesn’t have to feel bland, as you can still combine textures that create a sleek impact.

Our homes should be the place where we go to relax. And a minimalist approach provokes this. In applying some of these decluttering methods, you’ll bring simplicity into your style, and see the benefits almost immediately.

Breaking Free From Your Lunch Break

Humans need to keep moving to stay healthy. We weren’t designed to sit in front of a screen for 8+ hours each day–and studies have shown how damaging it is, not just to our posture, but to stress levels and emotional wellbeing! Many modern office spaces see their ‘break-out space’ as a critical factor in combatting this, as a way of allowing their employees to get away from their stressors during the working day.

 

As well as a place for meetings and informal catch-ups–a well-designed break-out space makes sense from an organisational perspective too. It creates a place for stimulating conversation, with impromptu discussions, often leading to the best ideas, which then spread to support projects within the workplace. The impact of a break-out space is incredibly influential and should not be dismissed as ‘just a lunch spot’.

 

Still, many modern offices forget their workforce will function better after a break, with the notion often being lost during the busy working day where time pressures are felt. However, by using foresight, and encouraging a time-out–in a well-designed space–productivity will increase, as time away from the screen offers employees a time to refresh–returning more alert and relaxed, the more consideration put into the break-out space, the more productive and alert a company’s workforce will be. And, as a company’s office space will say a lot about the company, creating a variety of spaces, like a break-out area–companies give themselves the best opportunity to retain key staff and attract great new talent. This could include filling your break-out area with comforts from the home, which offer a connection with space–reminding staff to switch off. Other ideas include bringing in elements from the natural environment, timber benches, warm lighting and cosy furniture. They all combine together to provide a relaxed feel, full of comfort and relaxation.

 

So while working hard is essential, it’s just as necessary to take a few moments from your day to enjoy your break–which is precisely why ’Take Back The Lunch Break’ day was created. Whether these moments come in the form of exercise, getting close to nature, seeing a friend or enjoy a meal–does your workplace have a break-out area that invests in their employee’s wellbeing?

Outdoor Co-Working Space? Tell Me More!

With stress, depression and a raft of mental health issues accounting for almost 14 million days of lost work in the UK last year, increased support of employee wellbeing in the workplace has never been greater. As office spaces encourage more natural light and airflow – thankfully, heading away from traditional, cubical styled, fluorescent-lit offices–we ask ourselves, how can contemporary co-working spaces further improve their inhabitant’s wellbeing?

 

While the co-working phenomenon would have sounded crazy in the not too distant past, we’ve seen first-hand how the co-working trend is transforming modern office design, and how the experimentation with office design knows no bounds. One particular aspect of the pattern has seen incredible prominence in the last few years: the outdoor office. Like a beer garden at your favourite pub, they add another element of tranquillity to your workspace and combine the regular practicality of a well-designed office with the beauty and ease of nature.

 

While your business may not have the budget (yet!) to have a 9-acre rooftop garden for staff (like Facebook), an outdoor office can be as simple as you like. And there are fantastic ideas that offer alternatives to traditional indoor spaces; this could be as simple as utilising your workplace patio or courtyard with picnic tables and umbrellas, positioned in areas flooded with natural light, combining them with a selection of plants.

 

If your office space has limited outdoor options, think about ideas that could be used in the future–that do away with conventional design, however, if you have ample space, an investment into an outdoor space could prove invaluable.

 

Regardless of the layout you decide upon, be sure to maximise natural light as a priority. In doing so, employees will likely become more productive, as there is a natural preference to be in nature rather than a traditional office. This is why the notion of outdoor space in the co-working industry is becoming so popular–not just a fad.

 

All staff can enjoy the benefits of an outdoor space, which can then also provide a location for meetings–that were usually reserved for bland, cubicle styled rooms. This is where the notion of an outdoor office further blurs the line between business and leisure: meaning employees will become less stressed while producing a higher quality of work.

 

So as time passes, and different interpretations of the ‘outdoor office’ are welcomed, the likelihood of them playing a role in your company’s culture should be investigated–as the benefits are hard to surpass. Just ask the guys at Facebook!

Facilities Management: The Lifeblood Of Great Workplace Design’

As workplace technology evolves, so as does the role of Facilities Management. Rewind to 2010, the term ‘co-working’ – where different companies operate within the same workspace – began to circulate. Since then, its impact on the FM industry has been significant.

As we celebrate World Facilities Management day, where does the future of FM lie?

The essence of quality office design, much like FM, requires a detailed understanding of each site’s variables. As such, the relationship between the two disciplines should be streamlined; the FM team understands the intricacies of management, staff, company structures and lease arrangements, while the architectural team should take this knowledge and translate into a practical, flexible, cost-effective space that is both easy to maintain and attractive to potential tenants.

 

How can Facilities Managers shape the future of contemporary workplace design at various stages?

 

 

The Three Designs

 

Facilities Managers are usually very aware of design considerations regarding accessibility, usability and universal design.

 

Accessible design ensures that buildings, products and services are usable for staff and visitors alike. Physical disabilities such as dependence on a wheelchair, lumbar problems, sensitivity to light and noise should all be considered by the design team. The FM can help by highlighting specific needs early on.

Usability – maximising every m2 of the floor as possible, making every £ spent count. Are acoustics suitable for the business need? Are the rooms simple to reconfigure? And is there sufficient space for those stackable chairs? Sounds obvious, but without knowing the final end use these are design risks that can be eliminated.

 

Universal design – are we creating a space that will make guests feel clear on way finding, make them feel welcomed and calm upon arrival, and impressed upon leaving?

 

Getting the blend of these elements is crucial - not only to aid streamlining of an organisation but for the wellbeing and attitude of the building’s occupants.

 

The Construction Phase

 

By involving Facilities Managers in elements of the operations and specification of a project, there is an opportunity to integrate this knowledge into its delivery.  As companies shift toward renewable energy sources and energy-efficient design, we’re confident their input will increase too.

 

Collaborative Spaces & Flexibility

 

Co-working as a business concept has transformed office design – and it’s here to stay. While a collaborative space can lead to an increase morale and creativity, businesses and FM’s must balance the relationship of collaborative spaces and individual working areas.

To adapt to the quick pace of transformation in the workplace, facilities managers need to understand how three particular types of flexibility can influence a space.

 

  • Contractual Flexibility: Employed staff could be outsourced, on fixed contracts, casual or full time – so the amount of people in the company’s workforce is likely to be quite fluid and may change day-to-day

 

  • Time Flexibility: Employee working hours could vary and be based upon the preference of employee. This could mean a more significant shift to evening staff or early morning. FM teams should cater for this in the management of space.

 

  • Locational Flexibility: Now more than ever, more employees will likely have the freedom to work from home, in satellite offices or client premises. FM teams should be wary of this and account for a more significant shift toward this in the future.

 

 

BRING THE OUTDOORS IN

“There is no greater designer than nature.”

This beautiful quote from British designer Alexander McQueen is now more relevant than ever, as we come to realise how the time spent in solace but surrounded by nature, can feed our creativity. It has the power to remind us of what is truly important.  – and when we combine the elements of our natural world with great design, we open ourselves to incredible possibilities.

On May 8th this year we were to celebrate Public Gardens Day, giving us all the opportunity to be inspired by ideas that could be used to transform homes and workplaces alike. This sadly is under threat for obvious reasons, but we can still look to nature for adding life to our interiors.

Immerse yourself in natural light

It’s vital to encourage light into your space. It evokes feelings of warmth, happiness and the comes with the added benefits of Vitamin D. In promoting more natural light – be it through full height windows, opened out masonry apertures or generous skylights, you’ll forge a natural connection with the outdoors and your space will feel refreshed. 

Design A Living Wall Of Art 

A fabulous way to invite the magnificence of the outdoors into your interior is by incorporating a ‘green wall’. Textures, shapes and tonal contrasts these bring will add a playful and sophisticated look that will enhance your sense of wellbeing, look great and offer a cost-effective wall finish into the mix.

Build Your Green Family

Without wishing to state the obvious, the most straightforward way of bringing in the outdoors is by enhancing your space with carefully selected plants. Our advice is ‘less is more’ – you are better having magnificent signature pieces in key locations and in suitable height planters than an array of small plants that don’t sit well with the architectural surroundings. Certain types of plants will thrive in different environments, so do your research beforehand.